Elvis Costello on the song that divides “Oliver’s Army” told radio stations, “Don’t play the record!”
English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello will no longer perform his 1979 single “Oliver’s Army” and urges radio stations to stop playing him as well.
The song’s lyrics – which comment on The Troubles, an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s – contain the N word to describe Irish Catholics in a critique of their degrading treatment.
“If I wrote this song today, I might think twice about it,” he told The Telegraph. “That’s what my grandfather was called in the British Army – it’s historically a fact – but people hear that word ringing like a bell and accuse me of something I didn’t have intend to do. “
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For decades UK radio stations broadcast “Oliver’s Army” without censorship. But in 2013, the anti-war ballad drew criticism from eager listeners after a BBC radio station sounded the racial insult.
Costello disapproves of any censored version, saying it does more harm than good. While the musician is due to go on tour in June and will not include “Oliver’s Army” in his setlist, he also implores that the radio stations “will do him a favor” by not playing the track either.
“They make it worse by beeping it for sure,” he said. “Because they highlight it then. Don’t play the record! “
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The singer joins a list of artists, musicians and bands who have also withdrawn their popular but controversial singles. During their No Filter tour in 2021, the Rolling Stones gradually removed “Brown Sugar” due to its sexually explicit descriptions of black women and its references to slavery. Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams quit performing the band’s best single “Misery Business” in 2018 – the brash song features a derogatory insult to women in its second verse.
After becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, Prince removed all swear words from his songs and concerts. Madonna and Bruno Mars have stopped performing their hit songs – “Material Girl” and “Like A Virgin” for Madonna and “The Lazy Song” for Mars – out of sheer disgust. Radiohead also grew tired of performing their hit song “Creep”, and while rumors of REM members hating their upbeat 1991 song “Shiny Happy People” abounded, that was debunked.
To this day, the Costello VEVO YouTube channel still includes a remastered version of the song below.
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